Space Force plans multiple hosted payloads for GEO belt surveillance – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense
WASHINGTON: While Space Force has chosen the Tucson-based startup GEOST to build a first prototype, the service is considering future competitions for autonomous sensors that could be carried on military, commercial or potentially even foreign satellites to monitor the geosynchronous orbit (GEO), according to a senior official.
Jack Barnett, head of the Space-Based Space Domain Awareness (SDA) (SSC / ECZGZ) branch of Space Systems Command, told Breaking Defense in an email that the plan is to eventually develop a “diverse supply of capabilities. SDA ”.
In particular, the Space Force is looking for inexpensive, lightweight electro-optical cameras to keep an eye out for spacecraft in the high-value GEO belt (approximately 36,000 kilometers above sea level) that could fly as payloads housed on any number of satellites. GEO is where most communications satellites, military and commercial, currently operate.
Space Force already has at least four “neighborhood watch” birds in GEO, known as the Geosynchronous spatial situational awareness program The constellation (GSAPP) was first launched in 2014. GSSAP satellites carry a sophisticated optical camera and have undertaken missions such as shading experiments by China’s SJ-20 maneuver satellite. GSSAP’s budget and capacities are categorized, but suffice it to say that they are unlikely to be cheap.
Somewhat confusingly, Space Force pursued hosted payload capacity for GEO in two separate solicitations to industry: a data call for a General Agency Announcement (BAA) released in April 2020. and a more recent request for information (RFI) published in October 2021..
The tiny (and somewhat spooky, with much of its work in the black world) GEOST prototype contract last month – worth almost $ 39 million in two installments – reports to the BAA. The BAA sought to “identify, develop and demonstrate low cost, low size, weight and power (SWaP-C) hosted space sensor concepts” to improve SDA in GEO.
Josh Hartman, vice president and general manager of GEOST, told Breaking Defense that one of the most important aspects of this effort is that Space Force wants sensor payloads that cost less than $ 10 million to produce.
“It’s a small package and low cost. And so not only does it adapt to multiple hosts, but we are considerably less than $ 10 million, which means it facilitates proliferation around an orbit in order to capture greater awareness of the space realm, ”he said.
The electro-optical camera of the sensor box developed by GEOST is based on a system originally developed by MIT / Lincoln Laboratories, originally designed as a hosted payload for Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS).
This payload design, however, is optimized for use in low earth orbit rather than GEO. One of the objectives of the BAA was specifically to enable “technology transfer aspects of the QZSS hosted payload from the lab to commercial vendors to enable a GEO SDA hosted payload production line”.
Once the payload prototype is completed, there is still the question of putting it into orbit. Barnett explained that Space Force “is working on finalizing our launch host” for the GEOST payload, and “will make this information available at a later date.” However, he said, the service has already ruled out a foreign satellite for the prototype “due to cost and complexity.” He added that the goal is to launch the prototype in fiscal year 2023.
Hartman said GEOST will deliver the payload ready to launch by the end of 2023, noting that it will take some time for Space Force and the host satellite maker to integrate the camera system. So the launch is unlikely to take place until 2024.
Barnett explained that only one prototype contract has been issued under the BAA, “on the basis of available funding”. However, he said, as part of the October RFI, Space Force will eventually seek to bring more vendors and more payload options for GEO under development.
“We continue to work with the defense industry for future competitions of this nature and to gather feedback on the right requirements for an affordable space SDA capability,” he said. “We will continue to welcome additional responses to the RFI by its expiration date at the end of 2022.”
RFI noted that the service was looking for three or four payload options for the so-called “uncharged” sensors, meaning the camera would automatically scan its field of view. These payloads are also expected to cost less than $ 10 million to develop.
Barnett said the data collected can be used on its own or to point to other SDA assets (think GSSAP, which can get in and out of a target).
“High-quality metric observations have many uses, one of which is the prediction of all space objects orbits and conjunctions with other space objects. This capability can help other systems to fulfill their missions, ”he said.